California Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules

California laws on personal injury lawsuits. Learn about the time limits to file, compensation available, fault and liability rules, and more.

Here you’ll find an overview of a few California laws that may affect a settlement or lawsuit after an accident or injury.

Time Limits for Injury Lawsuits in California

All states set limits on the amount of time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit after you’ve suffered some type of harm. This kind of law is called a statute of limitations, and there are different deadlines depending on the kind of case you’re filing.

In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives an injured person two years from the date of the injury to go to court and file a lawsuit against those who could be responsible. Basically, if you fail to get to the courthouse within this two-year period, the court will likely refuse to hear your case at any time in the future, and your right to compensation will be lost. 

The California statute of limitations on personal injury cases can be found at California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1.

Claims against a city, county or California state government agency. There is a time limit of six months to file an injury claim against a government entity, and claimants must adhere to a strict set of procedural rules. (Cal. Gov’t Code § 911.2.) See: Injury Claims Against The Government

California Shared Fault Laws

In some personal injury cases, the defendant may make the argument that you're actually to blame (at least partially) for causing the accident that forms the basis of your claim.  

If you do share some level of liability, it can end up affecting the total amount of compensation you’ll end up receiving from other at-fault persons and businesses.

In shared fault injury cases, California follows a “pure comparative negligence" rule. In basic terms, the amount of compensation you're entitled to receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your percentage of fault for the accident.

So, let’s say you're in a traffic accident where the other driver blatantly ran a stop sign, but you happened to be driving a few miles an hour above the posted speed limit at the time. You might share 10 percent of the blame for the accident, while the other driver is 90 percent at fault. Let's say your damages add up to $10,000. How does your shared fault for the accident impact your compensation? Under California's pure comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $9,000 (or the $10,000 total minus the $1,000 that represents your share of fault for the accident.)

Keep in mind that, while courts in California are obligated to follow this rule in an injury lawsuit that makes it to trial, it may be a different story if you're dealing with an insurance adjuster outside the court system. Don't be surprised if the adjuster raises the issue of California’s comparative negligence rule during settlement talks, but you’re free to negotiate what the impact of that rule should be on your claim.

"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases

In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In California however, a specific statute (Cal. Civ. Code § 3342) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning the dog owner is legally responsible in most situations where there dog bites someone, and no amount of fault or negligence needs to be shown. Specifically, the statute reads:

"The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness."

Limits on Injury Damages in California

Here’s a look at a few California laws that set limitations on the amounts (or types) of damages that are recoverable in personal injury cases.

No non-economic pain and suffering damages for uninsured drivers. California law prevents most uninsured drivers from recovering “non-economic” damages after a car accident, even if the other driver is completely at fault for the accident.

Non-economic damages include compensation for things like pain and suffering (this is typically the largest category of non-economic compensation), disfigurement, physical impairment, and inconvenience.

One key exception to this rule: The uninsured driver will be able to recover non-economics if he or she is in an accident with a driver who is operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that driver is in fact convicted of DUI in connection with the accident. You’ll find this law at California Civil Code section 3333.4.

Cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Another key California law that places a limit on certain kinds of damages is the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which places a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. California Civil Code section 3333.2.

Get More Information on California Personal Injury Laws

If you’d like more information on California's negligence and personal injury laws, feel free to do a little legal research of your own. You might want to start with California Civil Code section 1714, which provides the statutory basis for negligence-based injury actions in that state, declaring in part that “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”

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